GREEN BAY – Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst addressed the media on Wednesday afternoon. Here are five things we learned.
1. While Aaron Rodgers' decision looms, things are in a good place with the two-time defending NFL MVP
The lines of communication remain strong between the Packers and Rodgers, as the organization continues to give the 38-year-old quarterback time to decide on his future.
Rodgers says he'll make a decision soon, understanding how it will impact the team's plans for 2022. The Packers aren't setting any firm deadlines, wanting to allow the quarterback as much time as he needs to make a call on whether to return for Year 18. Once Rodgers decides, the Packers will plan their offseason accordingly.
"Obviously everything around here kind of centers on the quarterback," Gutekunst said. "It's a big piece and a domino that kind of has to fall before we go down the other avenues. So, it's important as we go through this and the puzzle pieces we have to try to make fit. That's the first one to go."
Rodgers has praised Head Coach Matt LaFleur, Gutekunst and the rest of the organization for the improvements that were made with communication inside the building over the past year.
"This has been more a conversation about kind of where we're heading together," Gutekunst said. "There's a process that obviously we're going through. There's a process that he's going through and we're very respectful of that."
2. The Packers are confident they can retain Rodgers and Davante Adams, and remain competitive
Gutekunst confirmed the team already restructured part of defensive lineman Kenny Clark's contract as it works to get under the salary cap and it probably won't be the last time it goes that route with pre-existing contracts.
It's led to some questions about whether the team could retain Rodgers and All-Pro receiver Davante Adams while still fielding a competitive team in 2022. Gutekunst was steadfast in his assertion it can be done, thanks in part to the job Executive Vice President/Director of Football Operations Russ Ball has done with the team's cap.
"I feel very confident about that," Gutekunst said. "I gotta give a lot of credit to Russ. He's done an excellent job and we've worked through a lot of different scenarios. There's always challenges but having good players here you work around that. I think having those guys here certainly makes us a very good football team."
Adams is one of 13 unrestricted free agents the Packers have this year. He also could be a candidate for the franchise tag, which the Packers haven't used since 2010.
Gutekunst admitted it's a tool that's available to the teams to retain star players, though the Packers have preferred not to go that direction. With all options on the table, the organization remains adamant about keeping Adams in Green Bay for the foreseeable future.
"One of the things we look at specifically for guys who are Hall of Fame-caliber players, I think there's a lot of production into their 30s," Gutekunst said. "It's like anything, there's risk either way. There's a lot of risk if we don't have Davante Adams and what that does to our football team as well."
3. Gutekunst confident about David Bakhtiari's recovery outlook, offensive line's future
Gutekunst and the Packers are excited to have their five-time All-Pro left tackle back in the fold next season after Bakhtiari missed most of the 2021 campaign due to the torn anterior cruciate ligament he sustained on Dec. 31, 2020.
Bakhtiari returned during the first half of the Packers' regular-season finale in Detroit but then sat out against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Divisional playoffs.
"He played about 28 snaps in the Detroit game and really played well, so was really excited, thinking we were kind of over the hump, didn't happen," Gutekunst said. "I think it would have been, once we'd kept going, if we would have won that last ballgame, but long-term feel really good about him as our left tackle."
Gutekunst feels good about the future of entire offensive line, adding that "if we didn't add anybody to our offensive line, I feel really good about the guys coming back."
Green Bay has two unrestricted free agents, Lucas Patrick and Dennis Kelly, but otherwise has the rest of the room under contract for next season. That includes Elgton Jenkins, the Pro Bowl guard who tore his ACL at the end of November.
"We're midway through kind of his thing, but he's doing great so far," said Gutekunst of Jenkins' recovery. "Another guy that just does stuff the right way. I can't say enough about Elgton and his ability to play all five spots in the National Football League at a high level. There's just not many guys in this league that can do that."
4. Packers hope Rich Bisaccia's arrival spurs special-teams turnaround
The Packers are excited about what the venerable special-teams coach will bring to a unit looking to reverse its recent fortunes.
The unit's struggles carried over into last month's 13-10 loss to the 49ers, with the biggest gaffe being Corey Bojorquez's fourth-quarter punt that was blocked and recovered for a touchdown.
Bisaccia, who finished last season as the interim head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, has known Gutekunst for a long time after previously coaching with his father, John, at South Carolina. He's also one of the NFL's most respected minds when it comes to special teams.
"We're definitely going to have to do some different things to become better in that area. Because it's certainly something that's kind of dragged on here longer than we wanted to," Gutekunst said. "We did some different things before this season to strengthen that area and during the season and ultimately it didn't work out. We're going to have to continue at it. We're excited for Rich and what he might be able to do."
While there likely will be more changes to come on special teams, longtime kicker Mason Crosby could still be in the team's plans. Despite Crosby making only 73.5% of his field goals this past year, Gutekunst praised how he handled a series of in-season changes this year, including a new holder (Bojorquez) and long snapper (Steven Wirtel).
The Packers currently have three kickers on the offseason roster, after retaining practice-squad kicker JJ Molson and signing Dominik Eberle on Tuesday.
"For where our football team is, having a championship kind of kicker, a guy who can compete at that level, is important," Gutekunst said. "There will always be competition and everybody's got to hold their own, but yeah, Mason, some of Mason's (troubles), the things that happened with our special-teams unit, again, we've got to make kicks, but at the same time there were a lot of moving parts there."
Two big reasons for the Packers finishing in the top 10 in total defense last season were the additions of Campbell and Douglas.
Campbell signed with the Packers at the end of the offseason program in June and turned in his first All-Pro season, leading the Packers with 146 tackles.
Gutekunst said the Packers had an eye on Campbell for several years but cap issues prevented them from getting involved when he signed with the Cardinals in 2020. Given a second chance for the two sides to come together this past summer, it proved to be the perfect pairing.
"The season he had, I'm so impressed with the person and the player, and he just made a world of difference for the defense," Gutekunst said. "We're very optimistic and hopeful to get him back into the fold."
Douglas led the secondary with five interceptions in just 12 games after signing off Arizona's practice squad on Oct. 6.
Gutekunst praised the job Packers director of pro personnel Richmond Williams did in helping find Douglas after Jaire Alexander succumbed to a shoulder injury against Pittsburgh that would sideline him for the remainder of the regular season.
Douglas was later named a Pro Bowl alternate after registering 57 tackles, 13 passes defensed and returning two of his career-high five interceptions for touchdowns.
"To predict what he was able to do for us, I'd be lying to you if I thought he was going to come here ... and impact our team the way he did," Gutekunst said. "Two great stories and hopefully we'll have a chance to get those guys back."